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Kidney Beans and Rice (Rajma Chawal)

March 16, 2011

By Kath Dedon


A few weeks ago I had never heard of Rajma Chawal (Kidney Beans and Rice), but today I offer you two versions of it! Both are delicious and I would happily make either one again.

I first learned of Rajma Chawal (pronounced “chavel”) when my sister mentioned she had tried, and liked, the recipe for Red Kidney Bean Curry on Smitten Kitchen. I still had some small red beans left from making Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice, so I used them to try the recipe.

I followed Deb’s recipe on Smitten Kitchen exactly as she had written it (with the exception of using small red beans instead of kidney beans). I used the full ¼ cup of chopped fresh ginger; she had suggested using half of that.

Our verdict on Deb’s recipe? It was delicious! We both really enjoyed it, although it was much milder than most curries that I make. It was very flavorful and makes a quick weeknight meal if you use 2 cans of kidney beans or have some beans already cooked. You’ll find the recipe here on Smitten Kitchen.


Red Kidney Bean Curry from Smitten Kitchen, made with small red beans and garnished with green onions


Pleased with Deb’s recipe, I decided that it was definitely “blog-worthy”.


Then, last week I got my copy of Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking, by Vikram Vij and his wife, Meeru Dhalwala. I am such a fan of their first book, Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine and of their Vancouver restaurants, Vij’s and Rangoli, that I preordered Vij’s at Home last September as soon as I learned that it was going to be released this spring. I had kind of forgotten about it,  so I was very pleasantly surprised when it arrived last week!

Vij’s at Home is a visually beautiful book, with lovely photos and friendly prose that makes you feel as if you are sitting with Vikram and Meeru at their dining room table talking about their food and the recipes. They take you into their home to introduce you to the Indian food they enjoy with their daughters. There’s a great introduction to Indian ingredients and they give suggestions for pairing wines with the food (Vikram is a certified sommelier).

There are recipes for seafood, poultry, and meats that look fantastic, but I found myself especially drawn to the vegetarian dishes. There are so many interesting recipes that are now on my “must try” list!

Looking through the book I discovered their recipe for Kidney Beans and Rice (Rajma Chawal)! I learned from their introduction to the recipe that kidney beans are very popular in India; Rajma Chawal is an Indian comfort food that is as well-loved in India as macaroni and cheese is in North America. Just as there are many versions of macaroni and cheese, there are many versions of Rajma Chawal. This recipe is Vikram and Meeru’s favorite version.

The ingredients are very similar to the ones that Deb used, but Vikram and Meeru use more of the spices. It definitely has more heat than the version on Smitten Kitchen.

I cooked a pound of dried kidney beans for the recipe, but Vikram and Meeru actually suggest using canned beans to make it quick and easy. They also say that you could use pinto beans if you prefer them to kidney beans.

If you enjoy beans, you’re in for a treat with Rajma Chawal! I highly recommend it. You can’t go wrong with either the Smitten Kitchen or the Vij’s at Home recipe. And I also recommend Vij’s at Home, if you’re looking for a new cookbook of inspiring Indian recipes to add to your collection!


Kidney Beans and Rice (Rajma Chawal) from Vij’s at Home


Kidney Beans and Rice (Rajma Chawal)

(Adapted from the recipe in Vij’s at Home: Relax Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking, by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala)


(print the recipe)


Serves 6 – 8


½ cup cooking oil (I used light olive oil)

2 cups chopped onion (1 large)

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic (about 6 cloves)

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1½ cups chopped tomatoes (3 medium) or 1 can (14.5 oz) chopped tomatoes, drained

1½ tablespoons mild Mexican chili powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cayenne

½ cup plain yogurt, stirred (optional)

3 cups water (more for a soupier curry)

3 cans (14-oz each) kidney beans, drained and rinsed

5 – 6 cups cooked rice, for serving


1. Measure the chili powder, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cayenne into a small bowl so the spices are ready to go.


2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.

3. Add the chopped onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is starting to turn light brown. This will take 8 – 10 minutes.


4. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.

5. Add the ginger, tomatoes, and the spices in the bowl to the pan. Cook, stirring this masala occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until the oil has risen to the top.


Masala for Rajma Chawal

6. Put the yogurt in a bowl. Add about 3 tablespoons of the masala to the yogurt and stir well.


7. Add the yogurt combination to the pan. Cook for about 2 more minutes.

8. Add the water and the beans. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes.

9. Serve over rice.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 7:16 pm

    For some reason I have been fearful of trying Indian food (cooking it, not eating it)! Thanks to your post, I am ready to try. These dishes look delicious! Thanks!

    • March 16, 2011 8:24 pm

      I was kind of intimidated to make Indian food, Eliot, but I’ve been learning about it and there really are quite a few recipes that aren’t that difficult! It’s fun to make some tasty Indian dishes at home! 🙂

  2. Laura permalink
    March 16, 2011 9:26 pm

    I also have leftover beans from Red Kidney Rice & Beans 🙂 May have to make this!

    I’ve heard that dry kidney beans need to be soaked overnight AND boiled thoroughly to avoid “kidney bean poisoning”. Do you know if that’s true? It sounds icky!

    • March 17, 2011 5:55 am

      Good point, Laura! I had heard about that and forgotten it. Thanks for the reminder! Apparently, kidney beans contain a high level of a toxin that can cause “kidney bean poisoning” that can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It is reduced to harmless levels when the beans are fully cooked.

      I soaked the beans overnight and cooked them in my slow cooker on Low all day, and then raised the temperature to High for the last hour. They were fully cooked.

      A quick google search revealed that some slow cookers cook at too low a temperature to fully get rid of the toxin. To be on the safe side, if you want to use your slow cooker, soak the beans overnight. Drain, add fresh water and bring to a boil on the stove. Boil for 10 minutes and then put in your slow cooker to cook. 10 minutes at a full boil takes care of the toxin.

      Or cook your beans by boiling them on the stove until done, about 2 hours.

      Or use canned beans. No worries, they are fully cooked!

  3. March 17, 2011 10:53 am

    These beans look so good! I have not had a bean curry before … this is well worth exploring! Thanks, Kath!

  4. March 17, 2011 1:44 pm

    Hi, I’m so glad you enjoyed the Rajma Chawel recipe! As for cooking kidney beans, a pressure cooker does the same job as the slow cooker but in opposite ways. And be sure to use all the broth that’s in either the pressure cooker or the slow cooker. With kidney beans, you can also soak them for about an hour or so before placing them in a pressure cooker if you’re worried about the toxins. Growing up on kidney beans, we’ve never heard of that issue. We’ve eaten slightly al-dente kidney beans many times (my losing track of cooking time and taking them off the stove too soon.

    I use a Hawkins brand pressure cooker, which is an Indian brand and has its own cooking times. The Italian ones are quieter, but I think they work a bit differently and may take a few minutes longer. Pressure cookers don’t pop anymore, so there’s no more danger of the “explosions”. They’re very convenient and quick. If you’re into beans, the next recipe I suggest you try is the Chickpeas in Dates Masala and Star Anise. I hope I got that title right–I don’t have my book in front of me.


    • March 18, 2011 8:08 am

      Meeru, thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I am honored to have your input!

      It makes so much sense that a pressure cooker would be the ideal way to cook kidney beans. I’ll have to dust mine off and give it a try.

      I had already noticed the recipe for Chickpeas with Dates Masala and Star Anise – now it is definitely on my list of recipes to try soon! Thank you for the recommendation!

  5. March 17, 2011 2:58 pm

    What lovely dishes. Your photos make them especially appealing. I’ll wager they are delicious. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  6. March 17, 2011 9:20 pm

    So I guess I need to go and track down some kidney beans! I have never thought of using these beans in my curry recipes before…but now I’m excited to try them out! I loved red beans and rice growing up, and these recipes remind me a bit of my childhood. Thank you for sharing these delicious eats. I hope you have a beautiful Friday. The weekend is nearly here!

    • March 18, 2011 8:11 am

      Hi, Monet! The idea of using kidney beans in a curry was new to me, too. After trying it, I can see why it’s so popular in India! Have a great weekend!

  7. March 17, 2011 9:56 pm

    What a wonderful dish and all the spices….thanks for sharing:)

  8. March 18, 2011 3:17 pm

    Until right now, I hadn’t heard of Rajma Chawal either, but I do love me some bean based meals and these look fabulous. Now I have to figure out how to sneak them in.

  9. March 19, 2011 12:48 pm

    hi Kath,
    I have to admit that looks like a really tasty dish, I haven’t made too many Indian dishes and I think my girls would love this. It’s almost like an Indian version of red beans and rice, or at least in my mind.
    Hope you’re having a great weekend.

  10. Carrie permalink
    September 25, 2011 4:23 pm

    I made this tonight – mmm delicious! Definitely on my list of go-to quick/tasty/inexpensive grad school budget dinners 🙂

    • September 25, 2011 4:41 pm

      That’s funny, Carrie, because I almost decided to make it tonight! Great minds think alike! 😉 It is good, isn’t it? I’m grilling lamb chops instead (not a grad school budget dinner) to go with our homegrown green beans.

  11. apunc1 permalink
    June 13, 2013 3:52 pm

    I really loved this. I had it for dinner five nights in a row. I will be making this again! The spice combination was delicious.
    Yes, it was only five servings for me, served with quinoa-millet combo and fresh steamed green beans! I had to improvise a bit: used dried beans and maybe had 4 cups cooked, two cups fresh tomatoes, no onion or yogurt Worked great!

    • June 13, 2013 4:12 pm

      I am so happy that you liked it! Thanks for letting me know. I think it’s definitely tasty enough to eat five nights in a row. 🙂

  12. April 14, 2014 4:25 pm

    added tomato paste and used broth instead of water

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